The One with Seville, Spain

Monday, March 9, 2015

Seville = LOVE! This was the highlight of our trip. The weather was beautiful, our Airbnb apartment was new and clean and in a great area of town, and Seville was so charming!
We got in late at night and marveled in the soft & thick towels, the new & modern appliances, and cushy & comfy beds. Totally felt like a legit hotel. Loved it to pieces. The "Campana Apart.14 Monumental center" airbnb apartment was 69 a night - worth every penny.
We went right to bed after scrounging up some food for dinner. Little did we know how awesome the location of our apartment was. When we woke up, we realized we were in the middle of all the action, the hip and cool part of town.
Getting an early start before most everyone was awake.
Hands down, my favorite building in Seville, and probably in Spain. Maybe even in Europe!
A little about Seville: Flamboyant Seville thrums with flamenco music, sizzles in the summer heat, and pulses with the passion of Don Juan and Carmen. It's a place where bullfighting is still politically correct and little girls still dream of growing up to be flamenco dancers. While Granada has the great Alhambra and Córdoba has the remarkable Mezquita, Seville has a soul. It's a wonderful-to-be-alive kind of place. The gateway to the New World in the 16th century, Seville boomed when Spain did. The explorers Amerigo Vespucci and Ferdinand Magellan sailed from its great river harbor discovering new trade routes and abundant sources of gold, silver, cocoa, and tobacco. In the 17th century Seville was Spain's largest and wealthiest city. Local artists Diego Velázquez, Bartolomé Murillo, and Francisco Zurbarán made it a cultural center. Seville's golden age - and its New World riches - ended when the harbor silted up and the Spanish empire crumbled. Today it's Spain's fourth largest city and Andalucía's leading destination. James Michner wrote, "Seville doesn't have ambiance, it is ambiance." We couldn't agree more.
Next time we come I want to stay at this swanky hotel.
The first place we had to see was the Plaza de España. I had seen tons of pictures of this on Pinterest and couldn't wait to experience it myself.
This square, the surrounding buildings, and the nearby Maria Luisa Park are the remains of the 1929 international fair, where for a year the Spanish-speaking countries of the world enjoyed a mutual admiration fiesta. When they finish the restoration work, this delightful area - the epitome of world's fair-style architecture - will once again be great for people-watching. Thankfully the restoration work seemed to be limited to small areas so we got to enjoy most of the plaza in all its glory.
Tile work like this is a trademark of Seville.
They have little row boats you can rent and take along the man-made canal. When we got there it was still closed up. We weren't exactly in sync with the night-owl Spanish schedule... When we would leave to go sight-seeing for the day around 8:30 or 9am, everything would still be closed. Nothing really got going anywhere on this trip until lunch time. Jay and Haylie, who slept in a little longer than us got to ride the boats and we were super jealous. I guess the early bird doesn't always get the worm. :)
The black and white stonework reminded me of Lisbon.
The Evans Family in Plaza de España on Monday February 9th 2015.
It's all in the details.
The park's highlight is the so-called Spanish Pavilion. Its tiles show historic scenes and maps from every province of Spain, arranged in alphabetical order from Álava to Zaragoza. We of course had to find Barcelona's, one of our favorite cities we've been to.
Leaving the plaza we walked through the Maria Luisa Park. Hard to tell, but this tree is huge.
 We walked along the river bank.
We passed by the Palacio de San Telmo near the river, the seat of the presidency of Andalusia's government.
Then we arrived at our destination: the Torre del Oro.
Seville's riverside Gold Tower was the starting and ending point for all shipping to the New World (like Portugal's Belém Tower). It's named for the gold tiles that once covered it - not for all the New World booty that landed here. Since the Moors built it in the 13th century it has been a part of the city's fortifications with a heavy chain draped across the river to protect the harbor. Today it houses a naval museum.
Just up the river from the Torre de Oro is Seville's Plaza de Toros, or bullring. Some of Spain's most intense bullfighting is done right here in the 14,000 seat ring. Fights are held on most Sundays in May and June as well as on Easter and Corpus Christi, and daily during some fairs. That's a lot of fightin'.
Since we had already toured Ronda's bullring and museum, we didn't go in, content to just admire it from the outside. It's definitely fancier and bigger than Ronda's, but we'll trust Rick Steves' advice that the museum isn't as good here.
So. Many. Pink. Buildings. Be still my heart.

Southern Spain has such a cool mix of Moorish and Spanish architectural styles. I love it!
Heading back into the center of town, we made our way to the cathedral.
The Seville cathedral is the third-largest church in Europe (after St. Peter's in the Vatican and St. Paul's in London) and the largest Gothic church anywhere. When they ripped down a brick mosque in this site in 1401 the Reconquistas bragged, "We'll build a cathedral so huge that anyone who sees it will take us for madmen." They built for 120 years. Even today the descendants of those madmen proudly display an enlarged photocopy of their Guinness Book of World Recods letter certifying, "Santa Maria de la Sede is Sevilla is the cathedral with the largest area: 126.18m x 82.60m x 30.48m high."
Can't even fit it all in one picture!
The bell tower, formerly a Moorish minaret. In 1356 the original top of the tower fell. What is there now was built by the Christians in the 16th century. It features a ribbon of letters saying, "The strongest tower is the name of God." | The interior of the church.
The choir featuring an organ of 7,000 pipes. A choir area like this, an enclosure within a cathedral for more intimate services, is common in Spain and England but rare in churches elsewhere. 
Then holy moly, this blew my socks off. Take a look at the High Altar! I wish there was somewhere to show you the scale of this thing because it was beyond huge. It's thought to be the largest altarpiece ever made, standing 65 feet tall with 44 scenes from the life of Christ carved from walnut and chestnut then blanketed with a staggering amount of gold-leaf. The work took three-generations to complete, spanning the years from 1481-1564. One of the most impressive things I've seen in a church anywhere.

Off to the right of the alter they had this mirror sitting on the floor angled so you could more easily admire the incredible vaulting decoration. This is a picture of that mirror.
Then of course we had to get a family photo in it. Fox loved it.
I guess we didn't skim the section on the cathedral too carefully when we were doing our trip prep because we had no idea this was here: the Tomb of Christopher Columbus, THE legendary explorer. His pallbearers represent the regions of Castile, Aragon, León, and Navarre.
Columbus traveled a lot, even posthumously. He was buried first in Spain, then in Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic, then Cuba, and finally - when Cuba gained independence from Spain around 1900 - he sailed home to Seville. Are the remains actually his? When they commemorated the 500th anniversary of his death they took DNA samples and got the evidence they needed to substantiate their claim. It has been so cool to be in the presence of all these incredible figures from history: Columbus, Napoleon, Raphael, and more.
The main Sacristy has a gorgeously ornate 16th century Plateresque dome, a grand souvenir from Seville's golden age. The intricate work resembles lacy silverwork.
Admission to the church includes entry to the bell tower. Even if it didn't, I would have paid the extra because I love me some views, just ask Chris who has spent countless hours watching the kids as I've trudged up cramped, steep, claustrophobic, and never-ending towers to get the best vantage point.
This one did not disappoint!
I spy the bullring.
Back down on the ground we walked out into the Court of the Orange Trees. Now the cloister, it was once the mosque's Patio de los Naranjos where 12th century Muslims would stop at the fountain in the middle to wash their hands, face, and feet before praying. The ankle-breaking lanes were once irrigation streams. This courtyard and the tower are the only remnants of the mosque.
Looking up through the trees in the court at the cathedral.
The Plaza de la Virgen de los Reyes sits right outside the cathedral. The square is dedicated to the Virgin of the Kings, one of several different versions of Mary you see in Seville, each appealing to a different type of worshipper. This version is big here because the Spanish king reportedly carried her image with him when he retook the town from the Moors in 1248. The fountain in the middle dates from 1929.
Next up was what might be Seville's top sight: the Alcazar.
Originally a 10th century palace built for the governors of the local Moorish state, this building still functions as a royal palace - the oldest in use in Europe. The core of the palace features an extensive 14th century rebuild, done by Muslim workmen for the Christian king, Pedro I. The palace embraces both cultural traditions creating a beautiful hybrid known as Mudejar.
The Courtyard of the Hunt. Pedro I built the most famous parts of the complex but during Spain's Golden Age Ferdinand and Isabel lived here and left their mark as did their grandson Charles V. Successive monarchs added still more luxury and today's king and queen still use the palace's upper floor as one of their royal residences.
This painting of St. Mary of the Navigators sits in the pink-and-red audience chamber just off the Admiral's room. The painting depicts the Virgin - the patron saint of sailors and a favorite of Columbus - keeping watch over the puny ships beneath her. Her cape seems to protect everyone under it, even the Native Americans in the background. This is the first depiction of "Indians" painted in Europe.
Cool placement of the rocks.
The serene and gorgeous Courtyard of the Maidens is the center of Pedro's palace. It's an open air courtyard surrounded by rooms with a long, rectangular reflecting pool in the center. Like the Moors who preceded him, Pedro built his palace around water. The pool has four covered cisterns, two at each end, that distribute water to the four quarters of the palace. The designers of this palace created a microclimate engineered for coolness: water, plants, pottery, thick walls, and darkness.
This palace is considered Spain's best example of the Mudejar style. 
Stucco panels with elaborate designs, colorful ceramic tiles, coffered wooden ceilings, and lobed arches atop slender columns create a refined, pleasing environment. I'll say!
The Hall of the Ambassadors was Pedro I's throne room and where he received guests. The room is a cube topped with a half dome, similar to that found in many Islamic buildings. In Islam the cube represents the earth and the dome is the starry heavens. In Pedro's world the symbolism proclaimed that he controlled heaven and earth.
This delicate courtyard is the Courtyard of the Dolls. It was for the king's family and private life.
The courtyard was named for the tiny doll faces found at the base of one of the arches.
Lots more lovely details.

Upstairs there were two long rooms before heading out into the gardens. The first was the Banquet Hall. This is where King Charles and Queen Isabel's wedding reception was held. Tiles of yellow, blue, green, and orange line the room, some decorated with whimsical human figures with vase-like bodies. The windows open onto views of the garden.
Next door is the banquet hall which is hung with large Brussels-made tapestries showing the conquests, trade, and industriousness of Charles' prosperous reign. On the left of the photo you can see the tapestry of the Mediterranean world with Spain on top.
Then we went out into the gardens.
The space is full of tropical flowers, cats, and cool fountains. In the gardens the Christian and Islamic traditions merge just like the rest of the house. Both cultures used water and nature as essential parts of their architecture and the garden's pavilions and fountains only enhance this.
Lovely spot to be on a nice "winter" day. Gotta love southern Spain!
Back in the city we strolled through the Plaza Nueva as we headed back to our apartment for naps and a rest.
After letting the kids get some much needed shuteye we wandered just about 30 seconds up the road to see the Plaza de la Encarnación. Formerly a nondescript square, it recently underwent a dramatic renovation and now makes a bold architectural statement in the heart of old Seville. A gigantic undulating canopy of five waffle-patterned, mushroom shaped, hundred-foot-tall structures provides shade to the what was once a sun-baked square.
Under the canopy is a gazebo for performances and in the concrete structure below is a food market and a museum displaying Roman ruins found during the excavation of the site. The canopy, known as the Metropol Parasol, was designed by German architect Jürgen Mayer H., who won a contest to create a new iconic structure for Seville. The dynamic vaulting is intended to echo the interior of Seville's vast cathedral. The wooden structure, unbelievably, is held together with glue. And - as you might guess for a cutting-edge architectural work with a heft price tag - it has been controversial. The structure has yet to win over the hearts of most Sevillians. 
For dinner we decided to try a Spanish burger chain that was literally steps from the door to our apartment. I told you it was a good location :) The Good Burger. Let me tell you, the name fits. It was a good burger. On this trip I've had the two best burgers I've had our whole time in Europe: the burger I got from the cafe in Gibraltar and this one. Chris was equally enthusiastic about his and the fries were mwah! When we come back to Madrid for a trip, we're gonna find this place again.
One thing we don't get to see very often is the places we visit a night. By 6 it is dinner time, bath time, and bed time for our long-suffering kiddos. But, we loved Seville so much and were just charmed by the city we went out for a evening stroll - bed time be darned! Our main destination? My favorite building of course!
Might be even prettier at night! It was a perfect way to end our time in Seville, my most favorite city on the trip.
The next morning we headed to Córdoba, Spain! Coming soon to a blog near you.


  1. What a great post about a great city! I loved Seville!

  2. Isn't Seville amazing!?! We loved it ... and I'm super bummed I somehow missed that amazing building!!! That plaza though...almost makes up for missing out ;)

  3. Wow!! What a beautiful city!! I love all the details in their buildings!! And I am loving all the horse drawn carriages too!!!!!

  4. thank you for your advice and beautiful pictures.
    I'm going to visit Spain this summer, 2 friends get marry near Sevilla and we will make a road trip :)

  5. Holy Moly, the cathedral is amazing, and how cool to see the tomb of Columbus!!

  6. I'm exhausted after reading this post. You sure cover a lot of ground. Seville is so colorful and so beautiful and you captured the texture and flavor of it really well. When we lived there (while Grandpa Ted was doing research for his PhD and I was 7 years old) I SWEAR I saw a ghost in the window of the Torre del Oro.

  7. Absolutely gorgeous photos! Makes me want to hop on the next flight out. thank you, Paige!

  8. Seville- what a marvelous city! One of my all-time favorite cities in this whole wide world.


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